Florida senators like the idea of a ban on tethering pets. But the NRA says no way.

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Kirby Wilson
·3 min read
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State lawmakers are debating a new bill which would ban tethering dogs and cats and leaving them unsupervised.

If Senate Bill 650 were to become law, any Floridian caught leaving an animal tied up would get a warning, then a series of escalating fines: $250 for a second offense, and $500 for each offense after that.

At the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, the bill’s first stop on the way to becoming law, the measure found support among Democrats and Republicans and passed unanimously.

But one influential group voiced opposition: the National Rifle Association.

“Tethering is a legitimate means of keeping your animals on your own property,” the NRA’s longtime lobbyist Marion Hammer wrote in an email. “Many, many kinds of dogs are humanely tethered in the out-of-doors rather than being locked up in a cages.”

The group’s opposition came as a surprise. Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to add a Republican-backed amendment onto the bill that would exempt hunting dogs from the ban. This exemption was thought by some animal rights advocates to be a major concern of the gun rights organization; the NRA counts thousands of hunters as members. But Hammer still eventually waived against the amended measure.

Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, said in an interview she was mystified by the NRA.

“It makes no sense,” Taddeo said. “I did reach out to Marion Hammer and the NRA specifically prior [to the meeting]...They did not call back,” Taddeo said.

Republicans on the committee were also surprised by Hammer’s move.

“I’ve never seen them focused on any policy that wasn’t focused on Second Amendment rights or hunting,” Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said in an interview.

Perry, who offered the amendment exempting hunting dogs, said he was not in touch with the NRA about the bill.

Hammer wrote in an email that even the hunting dog exemption doesn’t change the fact that it’s a “bad bill.”

Animal rights advocates say the tethering measure is necessary because many Floridians do not know how dangerous the practice is for an animal’s long-term health. Tethering exposes pets to the elements outside; confinement is psychologically damaging and studies show it breeds aggression, they say.

“This isn’t necessarily a deliberate animal cruelty issue, said Nick Atwood, the campaigns coordinator at the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, which supports Taddeo’s bill. “These pet owners, by and large, aren’t aware of the dangers they’re putting their pets into.”

Several large counties already have ordinances prohibiting unattended pet tethering: Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward and Pinellas all ban the practice.

Taddeo’s proposal comes with several exemptions outside the hunting dog provision. For example, animals involved in agriculture or shepherding; animals receiving grooming or medical treatment and animals involved in law enforcement are exempt.

Perry said even if the bill is currently imperfect to some, he is encouraged by his colleagues’ willingness to come together to improve the measure.

“I’m sure we’ll get something at the end of the day we can all live with,” Perry said.

An identical measure in the House, HB 177, sponsored by Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, has not yet been heard in a committee.